PlayStation 4, Xbox One duke it out

Sony and Microsoft are both fighting rearguard actions to defend their traditional strongholds, respectively in entertainment appliances and desktop software. But in one area the two lead the world: gaming consoles. In a market worth $44-billion this year and set to climb to $49-billion in 2014, according to Gartner, leadership translates directly to the bottom line. 

Both companies can do with a bit of that. While Microsoft shares are trading at a five-year high and the company has been achieving record revenues from software, it desperately needs to prove it can pull in the consumer dollars, too. Sony, for its part, has compelling offerings across numerous consumer categories, from smartphones and smartwatches to TV to tablets. But only in gaming consoles does it truly lead the world.

Not entirely coincidentally, the new PlaySation 4 from Sony and Xbox One from Microsoft were launched within a week of each other. Sony claimed opening bragging rights, selling 1-million consoles in the first 24 hours on 15 November, and 2.1-million in the first 18 days. Microsoft matched Sony almost unit for unit after launching on 22 November, selling 1-million units in 24 hours, and 2-million in 18 days.

Sony has made a similar impact in South Africa, selling out all available units on launch day, December 6. That may not be saying much, as the company has not revealed numbers, but it remains one of the most in-demand items on South African gadget shopping lists this month. 

Microsoft, on the other hand, maintains its woeful track record of keeping the South African market in the dark regarding Xbox. While it was not expected to include this country in its initial roll-out, it has done itself few favours by giving no clue to a local launch date, beyond "during 2014".

Total revenue from console hardware and software in South Africa is expected to reach R939-million this year, and to pass the billion-rand mark in 2015, according to PwC. That makes consoles as big as the local music industry, despite having far fewer role-players. 

With Microsoft Xbox all but missing in action, the market is left to Sony and Nintendo. The latter hasn’t come up with a new flagship since it launched the Wii U in 2012, but has fleshed out its range to include both high-end and low-end handheld devices. Its recent launch of the 2DS, a low-end version of the 3DS minus 3D functionality, has opened the market to entry-level users.

For now, it is a matter of how much product can be shipped into the country. Nintendo has few supply chain issues, while Sony is caught up in the whirlwind of massive demand from major markets.

When the PlayStation 4 does make it onto the shelves, shoppers will be faced with the most wantable gaming console yet. With sleek lines, elegant angles and shades of glossy and matt black, it looks like something out of science fiction. In fact, it would look futuristic in a Star Wars or Star Trek movie.

It connects with smartphones and tablets, using them as second screens. This means a player can follow the main action on the main screen while mapping progress on the second screen, much as the Wii U does with a dedicated console. 

That’s the advantage of working with an ecosystem of devices, and it's one Sony intends to exploit well into 2014. –

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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